Colorado has plains in the east, mountains in the west, and several great places to enjoy the state’s natural splendor between. If you need a great state for the best drives, The Centennial State should be at the top of your list. Many of the drives found in this list are seasonal roads and may close during winter or during adverse conditions. Always check a road’s status before booking your trip.
Pro Tip: Colorado road conditions can turn from perfect to terrible in a span of a few minutes. If you’re renting a vehicle aim for an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle in case of snow and ice. Never attempt a Colorado road trip if you’re unsure about conditions or ability.
Trail Ridge Road is the most popular road in Colorado’s most popular National Park, for good reason. When National Park Service director witnessed the construction of Trail Ridge Road in 1931, he uttered "It is hard to describe what a sensation this new road is going to make." First open to the public in 1932, Trail Ridge Road takes passengers 48 miles through some of the most picturesque views in the country. Trail Ridge Road winds along the Colorado River, crosses the Continental Divide, and tops out at a whopping 12,183 feet (3,713 meters). Along the way you’ll find several trailheads and opportunities to gaze across Rocky Mountain National Park.
With a name like Million Dollar Highway, you know this will be a heck of a drive. The Million Dollar Highway is a 25-mile stretch of U.S. Route 550 located between Silverton and Ouray that provides some of Colorado’s best views but requires some serious driving focus. The real beauty of the Million Dollar Highway is the 12 miles that wind and shoot through Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain Pass.
A note about the Million Dollar Highway: While many of our Colorado road trips are considered challenging, many would consider the Million Dollar Highway dangerous. Only drive the Million Dollar highway if you’re confident of your skill and aren’t facing snow or ice.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Jefferson County
You don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. and hit the trail to climb all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks; you can also drive up. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway starts approximately 60 miles west of Denver in Idaho Springs before spiraling up to the 14,264-foot-tall summit of Mount Evans. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway holds the distinction as the highest paved road open to traffic in the entire country. The scenic byway provides grand vista views of Colorado’s Front Range, Echo Lake, and the natural beauty of the Rockies. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats, pikas, and other high-altitude critters.
Independence Pass, Aspen
There’s more than one Independence Pass in Colorado so be sure you’re heading toward Independence Pass near Aspen. Independence Pass is the second-highest paved road to cross the Continental Divide in the U.S. and the fourth-highest paved road in Colorado. The drive begins as part of U.S. Highway 82 between Leadville and Aspen before winding 32 miles through the Sawatch Range and terminating in the ski resort town of Aspen. If you’re more about getting out of your car there are several opportunities for hiking and biking along the drive. When you’re finished stop by Independence Ghost Town, an abandoned mining town 16 miles west of Independence Pass.
South Rim Road, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Overshadowed by the Rocky Mountains, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a fantastic and underappreciated National Park outside of Montrose in southwest Colorado. Black Canyon’s South Rim Road hugs the canyon cliffs for only 7 miles but boy, what a spectacular 7 miles it is. Visitors can find many trailheads and opportunities to see the painted walls and deep ravines of Black Canyon directly from the South Rim Road.
Second only to the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Pikes Peak Highway takes you way, way, up to the peak of the 14,115-foot-high Pikes Peak. Only a few miles from Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak Highway begins off U.S. Highway 24 and winds 19 miles to the summit of America’s favorite mountain, offering several opportunities for stops and viewing along the way. This scenic highway has been shuttling visitors through meadows, lakes, and the natural beauty of Colorado since 1915 and might be Colorado’s most popular destination drive.
Guanella Pass takes gives many visitors their first taste of true Rocky Mountain driving. The 22-mile stretch known as the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway begins near the town of Grant, off U.S. Highway 285, and gives visitors a snapshot of Colorado’s natural splendor with views of peaks, majestic rolling landscape, and animals like beaver and bighorn sheep. Topping out at 11,669 feet, the scenic byway provides views of the Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans peaks.
Rocky Mountain National Park is arguably Colorado’s favorite destination and contains more than one great drive, which is why it’s earned two spots on our list. If you’ve gotten your fill of Trail Ridge Road to hop on over to nearby Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. The route begins at the doorstep of Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park and extends 55 miles through some of the Front Range’s most beautiful sights. You’ll pass through the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, the Continental Divide, and several ghost towns. Established in 1918, Peak to Peak is the oldest of Colorado’s 26 designated scenic byways.
Skyline Drive, Canon City
No guardrails, no barriers, just a country road perched high above the southern Colorado landscape. Skyline Drive starts at U.S. Highway 50 in Canon City before rising 800 feet above the surrounding landscape, offering unbridled views of the area. At the end of Skyline Drive is a scenic outlook that looks over the highway, mountains, and more. Skyline Drive is only 3 miles long but along the drive, you can stop at the Dinosaur Trackway which features fossilized ankylosaur footprints from Colorado’s Jurassic period.
Boreas Pass Road is beautiful year-round but at its most ostentatious in the colors of autumn. Get started just east of Fairplay off Highway 285 to navigate several miles through Park and Summit Counties. During the drive, you’ll cross over the Continental Divide, the headwaters of the Blue and South Platte River, and end at the famous mountain resort of Breckenridge. There are several bike and hiking trails along with scenic overlooks scattered throughout the route. Try taking your drive during the wildflower bloom of late spring or during the shifting colors of Colorado’s autumn.